Herta Daeubler-Gmelin got it half-right when she compared George W. Bush's tactics to Adolf Hitler's. "Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems," she told Schwaebisches Tagblatt on Sept. 18. "It's a classic tactic. It's one that Hitler also used."
Shortly after Ms. Daeubler-Gmelin made her remarks, Bush flung his long knives across the Atlantic, and within days she was no longer Germany's justice minister.
Such sovereignty-busting gangsterism has its pleasures, but Bush's biggest cribbing from the Hitler playbook is "permanent revolution." Developed by socialist theorist Leon Trotsky in 1915 and applied by such totalitarian masters of control as Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung, permanent revolution is the pinnacle of the art of mass distraction -- one continually changes the subject of debate by striving for new goals that are always just beyond reach. The idea is diabolically simple: By the time people start grumbling about the problems created by your Great Leap Forward, you're causing new difficulties with your Cultural Revolution. Opposition takes time to materialize; taking the nation from one crisis to the next neutralizes your enemies by focusing them against initiatives you've already abandoned.
On the domestic front, Bush has launched so many political offensives that it's impossible for what's left of the left to launch a coordinated resistance. Fast-track signing authority for free trade, expanded tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations while running up the deficit, drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, rounding up detainees and depriving them of due process, unraveling environmental regulations, union-busting, curtailing privacy rights -- any one of these full-scale assaults would require a full-court press by liberals to block or overturn.
In a blizzard of legislative and regulatory activity, virtually everything on the right-wing wish list is now being proposed. Previous presidents spaced out their initiatives in order to build popular support; Bush prefers to leave elected representatives out of the equation. The more legislation he throws at the wall, the more he'll get passed -- and the more people will forget that his is an illegal regime.
Generalissimo El Busho's policy of permanent revolution has reached its zenith with his post-Sept. 11 foreign policy. Before we allow Bush's razzle-dazzle to leap us ahead to his next war, let's consider the one we've already got. Our campaign in Afghanistan, lest we forget, continues even as thousands more troops pack for Iraq.
"Dead or alive," said George W. Bush, squinting hard at Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. If we couldn't get those two, we'd settle for any other high-ranking Al Qaeda or Taliban official we could find. A year later our highest-profile prisoner is alleged Al-Qaeda senior field commander Abu Zubaydah. Zubaydah was not involved, says the US, in any of the major attacks -- Sept. 11, our East African embassies, the USS Cole -- but rather in two Y2K plots that never came off (blowing up LAX and a tourist hotel in Jordan). Hardly a big fish, he's just a little minnow -- and we wouldn't even have him if the Pakistanis hadn't tossed him into our boat.
We blew it. US taxpayers are spending between $500 million and $1 billion a month to occupy Afghanistan and fight its Islamist guerrillas (in the '80s we called them "freedom fighters"), yet we haven't caught any of the people we blame for Sept. 11. Al Qaeda remains operational. They're moving money, weapons and men around the Middle East and Central Asia, preparing for their next attack. Not only are you no safer than you were on Sept. 10, but you've spent billions of bucks along the way.
But wait a minute, Bush said, beginning to distance himself from Operation Enduring Failure: the Afghan war was never about finding Osama and his co-conspirators. No, we actually went to Afghanistan to liberate its people.
"We've seen the pictures of joy when we liberated city after city in Afghanistan," Bush crowed on Dec. 12. "And none of us will ever forget the laughter and the music and the cheering and the clapping at a stadium that was once used for public execution. Children now fly kites and they play games. Women now come out of their homes from house arrest, able to walk the streets without chaperons."
Beautiful imagery, nicely written by a talented but sadly anonymous White House speechwriter and echoed by TV reports filed from the Kabul Intercontinental. Too bad that, except for the part about games and kites, it's a lie.
Public executions continue. Sharia law -- stoning adulterers and chopping off the arms of thieves -- remains in effect, enforced by the same judges who ruled under the Taliban. Judge Ahamat Ullha Zarif told Agence France Press on Dec. 28: "Public executions and amputations would continue in accordance with Sharia law but justice would be applied fairly and with mercy. 'There will be some changes from the time of the Taliban,' he said. 'For example, the Taliban used to hang the victim's body in public for four days. We will only hang the body for a short time, say 15 minutes.' Kabul's sports stadium, where the Taliban used to carry out public executions and amputations every Friday, would no longer be used. 'The stadium is for sports. We will find a new place for public executions.'" Now that's civic improvement.
Aside from a tiny minority of the residents of Kabul, ruled by Hamid Karzai's US-protected city-state, the "liberated" women of Afghanistan still wear the burqa. A May report issued by Human Rights Watch says that women are subjected to "sexual violence by armed factions and public harassment" and that gang rapes are commonplace, particularly in the north. Not one inch of road has been paved. Writing for the Lexington Herald-Tribune, Sudarsan Raghavan notes: "The fall of the Taliban has left a power vacuum in mostly ethnic-Pashtun southern Afghanistan that has been filled by scores of shuras, from provincial ones to others in small villages. Elsewhere, warlords such as Abdul Rashid Dostum in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and Ismael Khan in the western province of Herat are now firmly in control of their fiefdoms, just as they were before the Taliban emerged in 1994. Along one stretch, the road is dotted with armed men at checkpoints controlled by tribal shuras. Often, they are nothing more than highway robbers preying on commercial trucks and taxis."
What about all the money that we promised to spend to rebuild the country we bombed into freedom? The West welched. The Karzai government is already so broke that it can't pay its employees; it's already running a budget deficit -- $165 million by early next year. $2 billion has already been spent -- much of it likely stolen by corrupt Afghan officials -- while the lives of ordinary Afghans continue to be plagued by poverty and starvation.
It doesn't take an expert on Central Asian politics to discern the obvious: Occupation by a rich country that makes poor people even poorer is a recipe for resentment. Afghans are among the world's most fiercely independent people. A self-indulgent Western superpower propping up a band of third-rate puppets isn't helping to reduce anti-Americanism there. Never doubt that similar sentiments are spreading through other Muslim countries.
One might ask why our Generalissimo is going after Saddam Hussein's Iraq when the war in Afghanistan has worked out so poorly, but one would be missing the point: Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution is at work. It is precisely because we botched Afghanistan that we're moving on to Iraq.
Ted Rall's latest book, a graphic travelogue about his recent coverage of the Afghan war titled To Afghanistan and Back [NBM Publishing], is in its second edition. See nbmpub.com.)